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What happens at Crown Court?

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In England and Wales, serious criminal law matters will proceed to the Crown Court for trial. While cases will usually begin in the Magistrates’ Court, they will be passed on to the Crown Court where the matter at hand requires a trial by jury.

Alternatively, where a defendant pleads guilty to an either-way offence in the Magistrates’ Court, the matter my be committed to the Crown Court for sentencing where the Magistrates feel their sentencing powers are insufficient.

If you are due to attend a Crown Court hearing, you may have reasonable reservations about the process and what it is likely to involve. Even if you broadly understand the Crown Court procedure, it is still important that you know exactly what to expect.

In this post, we discuss what typically happens at the Crown Court, including the various Crown Court trial stages that are likely to take place, what actions can be taken in the Crown Court, and what will happen after proceedings conclude.

What is the Crown Court?

The Crown Court handles the most serious criminal offences. More specifically, it will hear cases which have been sent for trial by the Magistrates’ Court, or cases that can only be heard in the Crown Court due to the nature of the offence.

Crown Court cases will include ‘either-way’ offences and ‘indictable only’ offences. Either-way offences will first be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, and if it is deemed too serious or complex, or a defendant requests for the case to be heard in front of a jury, it can be senton to the Crown Court.

Indictable only offences are exclusively heard in the Crown Court. They are the most serious criminal offences.

The Crown Court will also deal with sentencing for defendants who have been convicted in the Magistrates’ Court for a serious offence where the Magistrates’ Court sentencing powers are insufficient, as well as hearing any appeals against decisions made in the Magistrates.

What cases go to the Crown Court?

As mentioned above, only serious criminal offences will result in a Crown Court trial taking place. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, offences such as:

  • Assault
  • GBH
  • Rape
  • Sexual offences
  • Indecent imagery
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Drug offences
  • Burglary
  • Armed robbery
  • Fraud and money laundering
  • Terrorism
  • Firearms offences

What happens at a plea hearing in the Crown Court?

The standard Crown Court procedure will see a plea hearing take place from the outset of the case. The Crown Court plea hearing is relatively straightforward, with the defendant being expected to enter a plea to the charges against them.

During the initial Crown Court hearing, if the defendant pleads not guilty, the court then proceeds to take the case to trial. Dates for the Crown Court trial and any other relevant planning matters will then be decided, and directions are set for service of evidence and any legal arguments.

Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea

In summary, where a guilty plea is indicated at the first stage of proceedings, a defendant will receive a reduction of one third to their sentence. Where a guilty plea is indicated after the first stage of proceedings, the maximum reduction is one quarter. If a defendant pleads guilty on the first day of trial, they are entitled to a reduction of one tenth.

  1. How does a reduction work for an indictable only offence?

A defendant cannot enter a plea before the Magistrates’ Court for an indictable only offence. However, the Magistrates’ Court will ask the defendant to indicate a plea at their first appearance. The indication must be unequivocal, meaning it must be clear and leave no doubt. Where a guilty plea is indicated at the Magistrates’ Court and at the first Crown Court hearing, a reduction of one third should be made.

  1. How are these guidelines applied to an either-way offence?

A defendant will be asked to indicate a plea at their first appearance in the Magistrates’ Court. If a guilty plea is indicated and the Magistrates are of the view that their sentencing powers are sufficient, meaning the case will remain in the Magistrates’ Court for sentencing, defendants are entitled to a reduction of one third to their sentence. If the Magistrates consider their sentencing powers are insufficient, the case will be committed to the Crown Court for sentence, and the defendant will still be entitled to a reduction of one third.

There are some exceptions where reductions for a guilty plea do not apply, such as for certain firearms offences, the ‘three strike rule’ for domestic burglary, and a third instance of class A drug trafficking.

For more information as to guilty pleas and reductions, please visit our website: /site/our-services/criminal-law-solicitors/should-you-ever-plea-guilty-in-court/reduction-in-sentence-for-a-guilty-plea/

What is the warned list in the Crown Court?

Part of the Crown Court trial process will involve what is known as a ‘warned list’. A Crown Court warned list is a list of backup cases that can be used if another trial does not go ahead for any reason.

When a Crown Court case is added to the warned list, it can be called on at any time during a set period, if required. Usually, this ‘warned period’ is a two- or three-week timeframe, but this can vary between different courts.

If a Crown Court case is called up from the warned list, the defendant in the trial will receive notice that the trial will begin the day before it is due to commence, meaning the defendant in a Crown Court must be available for the two-week period.

How does the Crown Court trial process work?

During Crown Court trial proceedings, the defendant in the case will be represented by either a criminal defence solicitor or barrister. On the other side, the prosecution will be represented by an ‘advocate’. A jury of 12 individuals will also be selected to oversee the case.

Once sworn in, the jury will be informed of the details of the case by the prosecutor. Prosecution witnesses will be called to provide evidence, and can be cross-examined by the defence team. Once this evidence is heard, the defendant is then heard, followed by defence witnesses.

Both sides will make their closing statements once all evidence has been presented, the judge will summarise the evidence and then inform the jury of the relevant laws that will be applied related to the charges.

After this, the jury deliberate over the evidence and will make a decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

What happens at sentencing in the Crown Court?

If, following the Crown Court trial process, the jury rules that a defendant is not guilty, they will be discharged, and the case will come to an end. On the contrary, if they are found to be guilty, the next steps will vary depending on the circumstances.

The Crown Court can either provide an immediate sentencing decision, or proceedings may be adjourned to prepare additional reports. If a case is adjourned, the defendant will return to the Crown Court at a later date to receive their sentence.

How long does sentencing take in the Crown Court?

As mentioned above, the time it takes for sentencing to take place in the Crown Court will depend on whether or not it is possible to make a decision on the same day. In some cases, the case may adjourned for a few weeks while a full assessment is made.

How much does a Crown Court trial cost?

The cost of representation for a Crown Court trial varies. This is something our criminal defence solicitors can advise you on further during a consultation. We will be able to help you apply for legal aid, or work with you on a privately funded basis – whichever is best for your personal circumstances.

Who decides the verdict in a Crown Court?

The Crown Court trial process dictates that the jury will have the final say on whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. The judge will then decide on the sentence that should be imposed if the jury returns a guilty verdict.

Can the public attend Crown Court?

In the vast majority of cases, it is possible to watch Crown Court proceedings from a public gallery. Public galleries tend to be located at the back of each court room.

Submission of no case to answer

Where the prosecution case is evidentially weak, either because there is no evidence to prove the offence or, although there is some evidence, the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction, the defence may make a submission of no case to answer. In the Crown Court, this is an application made to the judge to dismiss the case because there is no case for the defendant to answer. A successful submission will result in a Not Guilty verdict.  A submission of no case to answer is ypiclly made by the Defence, although the judge can decide that there is no case to answer of their own initiative, but they must allow the prosecution an opportunity to make submissions in response.

a judge decide if there is no case to answer?

In the Crown Court, the judge will decide on whether there is no case to answer based on whether a jury could properly convict on the evidence. The test in the Criminal Procedure Rules states that ‘the prosecution evidence is insufficient for any reasonable court properly to convict’ (CPR part 25, rule 25.9(2)(e)).

Pre-sentence Report

If a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal offence, the court may request that a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) to be prepared. The purpose of a PSR is to provide the court with a balanced picture of who the defendant is before passing sentence.  The probation service is completely impartial and have no association with the police or other authorities. Furthermore, a PSR can often be very beneficial.

A PSR is a document written by a probation officer following an interview with the defendant. The report should be impartial and will provide the court with information about the defendant including their background, family, education, career, and any responsibilities they may have. It should provide the court with some understanding as to what led the defendant to commit the offence, and how they feel about it now, for example, if they feel remorse. A PSR will suggest the most appropriate sentence for the committed offence and make recommendations to the sentencing court. The court does not have to follow any recommendations made, but it is helpful to have this impartial report to work with.

Private funding

If you are seeking an enhanced private service for the best chance of obtaining a successful outcome, contact the Senior Partners Umar Zeb/Lisa Nicol or James O'donnell Contact us.


Transferring legal aid

Where you have received a Representation Order (a.k.a. ‘legal aid’) to cover the cost of your criminal defence, you may be able to transfer this to a new solicitor, but it will depend on the reason why you need to change solicitor.

Please follow this link for more information: /site/our-services/criminal-law-solicitors/can-i-change-my-solicitor/#transfer_legal_aid

What should you do if you are facing Crown Court proceedings?

If you are due to attend Crown Court, it is absolutely essential that you have the right legal advice and representation on your side from the outset. The potential consequences of a guilty verdict at Crown Court can be very serious, particularly as the corresponding sentences for many either way and indictable only offences can include lengthy periods of imprisonment.

The intervention of an experienced criminal defence solicitor at this stage can often be the deciding factor when it comes to avoiding a conviction, or having a sentence reduced.

At JD Spicer Zeb, our criminal defence solicitors frequently attend the Crown Court to support clients facing all types of charges. We are therefore well versed with the ins and outs of the Crown Court procedure and will be in the best possible position to provide you with the support you need.

We often hear from clients who are initially hesitant to speak to a criminal defence solicitor for fear that will signify their guilt. This is not at all accurate. In fact, failing to instruct a specialist criminal defence solicitor is only ever likely to count against you when a Crown Court trial begins.

Our department is supported by a strong team of in-house Crown Court advocates who will be on hand to provide tailored advice and representation for a wide range of cases. We also have access to some of the UK’s leading Barristers and Kings Counsel.

Contact our Crown Court solicitors today

For urgent specialist advice, immediate representation or to speak to us confidentially about the Crown Court procedure, or Crown Court trial stages, please do not hesitate to contact our dedicated team of specialist Crown Court solicitors in London, Birmingham or Manchester on telephone:

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form for advice about the Crown Court trial process and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

24/7 legal representation for criminal offences

For immediate representation and advice about the Crown Court procedures, you can contact our Emergency Number: 07836 577 556, and we will provide you with the urgent assistance you need.

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If you believe your case is likely to have serious consequences for you now, or in the future and you have the means to pay for this service

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How can we help?

Common questions

We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.

How quickly do you respond?

We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.

Can you get cases dropped?

Yes, read about the recent cases we've helped our clients with here.

We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you. 

Have you won any awards?


"JD Spicer Zeb demonstrated a clear commitment to client service through their work with vulnerable and diverse individuals in what can be severely traumatic circumstances".

Do you offer free consultations?

Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about  –

  • Whether we can take the case on and our relevant experience.
  • Public and private funding benefits.
  • Assistance in applying for legal aid where we are likely to accept instructions.
  • An outline of options in police interview only. We will not advise you on which option to adopt.
  • Providing our free written guide explaining the police station process.
  • The gravity of routine and day-to-day offences you face.
  • Consequences of not attending the court or police station.
  • Consequences of interfering with any witnesses.
  • Retaining any evidence in support of your case.
  • If possible an outline of the elements of the offence that the police or CPS must prove.
  • This consultation will normally be by telephone or email and will only be for as long as we deem necessary to establish if we can act for you. If we cannot usefully give you any advice in this manner then we will not continue with the consultation. We will not discuss the case in depth for you to be able to decide on your plea or any significant aspect of the case, as this cannot be undertaken informally.
  • Referring you, if possible, to other firms for matters out of our specialism or if we cannot help.

Consultations do not apply to the following cases –

  • If we do not intend to take the case on.
  • Road Traffic cases, drink driving, drug driving, driving bans, speeding, no insurance, mobile phone use, points etc.
  • In all cases where we do not have the capacity to take your case or the availability of suitably qualified staff to provide an initial free consultation. This is applicable in all cases but especially where a more senior lawyer is required because of your personal needs or the complexity of the case.
  • Harassment/stalking/ coercive behaviour/malicious communications or road traffic cases and most sensitive cases. These cases are often too complicated to assess in short consultations.
  • The locations concerned may be too distant to represent you adequately or it may not be cost-effective for you or us.
  • The case is too complicated to assess or raises various charges or facts, complexity, or history to be considered informally or in a short consultation.
  • In most Legal aid transfers where legal aid is granted to another firm except in very grave cases, we may assess the case and merits for a transfer.
  • If your relationship has broken down with your existing solicitor or several solicitors.
  • If you have been released under investigation and have already had a police station attendance. 
  • If you hold legal aid with another firm and seek a second opinion.
  • If you are calling on behalf of the client as a friend or family member unless you have full authority and full facts.
  • To businesses.
  • Advising whether you were given good advice by your other solicitor.
  • Whether to decide to plead guilty or not guilty.
  • Whether you have an arguable defence in law or factually complicated defences.
  • Any advice you have had after your first court appearance.
  • Any advice on appeal on conviction or sentence.
  • If we feel we are unable to communicate with you.
  • If we are likely to be conflicted or breach our professional rules.